Don’t waste a drop: sustainability and waste reduction in vineyards

From composting and burning to grapeseed oil and grappa, winemakers make sure they get everything out of their product

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 4:00pm

There are many proverbs that are people in the wine world follow, and one of the most important is “waste not, want not”.

From each and every grape, from seedling to the last drop, something can be squeezed to its utmost.

In the vineyard, vine cuttings and trimmings are collected and composted to nourish the soil. Old vines that have reached their end of grape growing life, are dried then burnt, and the ashes added to the soil, to provide an excellent source of potassium and lime which are helpful for budding vines.

Grape seeds can be pressed to make grapeseed oil which has a very high smoke point which makes it ideal for sautéing. Grapeseed oil is great for making salad dressings as it is quite neutral in flavour. It’s considered a healthy oil in that it can help lower one’s cholesterol. In cosmetics, grapeseed oil has moisturising, astringent and antiseptic properties, so it is quite often used in sunscreens, creams and massage oils.

WholeVine and SonomaCeuticals, a projectstarted by Barbara Banke, chairwoman of Jackson Family Wines, out of a keen interest in sustainable production practices, makes a type of flour from grape seeds and has found that each grape varietal produces a flour with a distinctive flavour.

And what is one to do with all that leftover must (the skins, stems and pulp) after the grapes have been pressed, fermented then strained?

The Italians are make a style of wine called ripasso, a technique that’s in common use in the Veneto region for Valpolicella. Valpolicella, which is substantially lighter than its big brother Amarone (both wines are made from the same grapes – usually corvina, rondinella, and molinara), is given a much bolder flavour when the leftover skins and lees from fermented Amarone are added. By doing this, a secondary fermentation occurs which adds more colour, flavour, alcohol and texture to the original Valpolicella. Some sommeliers refer to this style of wine as a “baby Amarone”, but really the wines, which have had DOC status since 2009, do stand well on their own as a distinct style as they are very approachable in their youth.

The best and most practical use for all the leftover must? Grappa! This delicious and potent drink is the result of distilling the pomace that remains after the pressing of the grapes. The pomace is steam distilled, not over a direct flame, which would burn the pomace and result in bitter flavours. Grappa can be called grappa only if it is made in Italy, with special dispensation for the Italian part of Switzerland and San Marino. The flavour of grappa is very much influenced by the grapes that they are made from. A very good house for grappa is Jacopo Poli who was one of the first to use hand-blown bottles, each distinctive to its grappa grape, as a showcase. Tignanello – the original Super-Tuscan wine – also makes a grappa with the Tignanello name on the bottle.

At the end of the evening in the Veneto region, one can have a resentin (small rinse). After drinking an espresso, a small measure of grappa is poured into the almost empty cup, which is then swirled and drunk in one gulp.